Another great trip up to Hull awaits those amongst our travelling army who aren’t counting the pennies with a trip to Wolfsburg on the horizon. Fulham’s Europa League quarter final against the German champions might also be on the mind of Roy Hodgson. It’s the highlight of our run-in now after that second half collapse at White Hart Lane cruelly ended our FA Cup run on Wednesday night.
With the first leg at the Cottage on Thursday, Hodgson’s team selection will be particularly interesting. Only once before this season – against Manchester City last weekend – could you definitively say that Hodgson purposefully left players out of the side for a league game. Brede Hangeland was clearly given as much time as possible to nurse his chest injury and he may miss our game at the KC Stadium which, given the way Chris Smalling looked particularly falliable against City, might be a brave decision.
The boys looked very tired by the end of Wednesday night’s contest, which is understandable given the exertions of a season that has now reached 50 games. Whether Hodgson decides to freshen things up in midfield remains to be seen. Clint Dempsey worked miracles when he came off the bench against Juventus but has had to wait for a first team chance as he comes back from that knee injury. The American might be given a run in place of Simon Davies tomorrow afternoon, but much will depend on how Hodgson sees as his first choice for Wolfsburg.
Equally, the central midfield partnership could be freshened up. If Chris Baird doesn’t replace Stephen Kelly at right back (and I thought the Northern Ireland international was rather harshly dropped in midweek), he might come into the midfield, which would set up an intriguing meeting with Jimmy Bullard. After their history, will they shake heads? Of course. Might Baird go in a bit strong early on? Probably. Dickson Etuhu had a poor second half against Spurs and Danny Murphy still doesn’t look quite right and considering that these were the sort of games you thought Jonathan Greening might be useful for, it may make sense to play him.
Hull will be a difficult proposition at the KC. Their home form kept them afloat last season and Iain Dowie will be targeting home wins to take them towards safety this time around. Fulham fans certainly won’t need reminding of City’s ability to pick up points. Our best ever season started pretty well at the KC, with an early lead courtesy of Seol Ki-Hyeon well deserved, but Fulham faded badly after Geovanni’s screamer and the home side were good value for the three points. Their victory at Craven Cottage, which ultimately helped secure Hull’s Premier League status, was more of a smash and grab raid, though Phil Brown’s joy at the late winner was obvious.
The Tigers have plenty of players we would do well to keep an eye on. Bullard will be the name on everyone’s list, but the success of Hull’s survival bid will depend on how well Dowie utilises the creative talent at his disposal. Dean Marney seems to have quietly established himself as a regular member of the midfield, but his industry might dovetail nicely with Geovanni’s penchant for the spectacular. Injured Irish international Stephen Hunt, rated ‘unlikely’ to play a part tomorrow, will be a real loss for the home side. Caleb Folan made a dramatic return to goalscoring form as Dowie came close to a dream start at Portsmouth at the weekend, but the new ‘football management consultant’ isn’t short of options up front.
Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink is certainly a useful option and shouldn’t simply be considered a target man, but for me the big mystery is why Brown failed to use the promising Jozy Altidore more regularly. The young American, on loan from Villareal, was rumoured to be a Fulham target in the summer and plenty of people – including this correspondent – were very excited about the prospect of Altidore making his mark in the Premier League. He hasn’t really managed it at Hull, for whatever reason, and it would be entirely Fulhamish if he beat off a hamstring injury to play a starring role on Saturday.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Kelly, Shorey, Hughes, Hangeland; Baird, Greening, Duff, Davies; Dempsey; Okaka. Subs: Zuberbuhler, Smalling, Dikgacoi, Murphy, Riise, Gera, Zamora.